Leading article: Our role in closing Guantanamo

Share
Related Topics

Some 255 prisoners are held without charge in Guantanamo Bay detention centre. Barack Obama's commitment to close the facility is one of the most important, symbolic elements of his agenda as president-elect. It represents the rejection of a disreputable element of US foreign policy. Asked by Time magazine about criteria by which he would measure his success in office, Mr Obama said: "On foreign policy, have we closed Guantanamo in a responsible way, put a clear end to torture and restored a balance between the demands of our security and our constitution?"

Guantanamo has become shorthand for giving the rule of law short shrift and riding roughshod over the Geneva Convention. It has also become associated with practices incompatible with civilised values. Its very location was a means of circumventing protections afforded by the US constitution. And the use of torture – the only honest description of the simulated drowning known as waterboarding – to extract testimony from prisoners would unquestionably be condemned by the US were it practised in other countries. Closing Guantanamo would represent a commitment to the rule of law.

It should also be a signal that the "war on terror" is not an end that justifies any means. As Rupert Cornwell reports today, there are already some worrying indications that President Bush may pardon those within the Pentagon, the Justice Department and the White House who authorised coercive interrogation in Guantanamo, and those who used it. That would be an indication that individuals are not responsible for their actions. It would also undermine US attempts to buttress the principle of accountability elsewhere in the world, not least in war crimes tribunals.

Barack Obama has raised almost impossible hopes, and one of them has been for a new kind of world order in which the rule of law will hold, in which there is some congruence between US rhetoric and US actions, in which America can be an exemplar of respect for the rights of individuals. Closing Guantanamo is just the start of that wider endeavour, and it should have Britain's wholehearted support.

This country's tacit acceptance of "extraordinary rendition" by the US was a sin of omission at the very least. The lack of curiosity shown by senior ministers about the provenance of much US intelligence will surely return to haunt them.

What to do then with the Guantanamo prisoners is a relatively small question, though one that could have been designed to stoke popular resentment at the prospect of Britain taking any of them. Some detainees cannot be returned home either because of reluctance on the part of those countries to have them, or because of fears that they could be tortured on their return.

The British Government is reported to be in negotiations about the possibility of taking some of them here. Lord Goldsmith, the former attorney general who negotiated the return of British detainees, has said that Britain should accept some of the prisoners if that would help to close the facility. It would be, he said, in the country's self-interest because Guantanamo was damaging Britain, having become "a recruiting agent for terrorism".

It has indeed, and we should never say never. But this is not of itself an argument for this country to take on detainees who have no connection with this country. This is a problem made in America, and America must deal with its consequences.

Britain, given its solidarity with the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, has no need to curry favour with Barack Obama. His election delighted Britain; he knows as much. Unlike some of America's European allies – Germany, to name just one – Britain has put its troops in harm's way as part of the US-led alliance in the region. In the overall scheme of things, the US needs Britain, not least for Mr Obama's forthcoming surge in Afghanistan.

In any event, what needs to be questioned seriously is just why it is unsafe for detainees to be returned to their own countries. Do we have to accept as a fact of life in this new world order that prisoners are routinely tortured in detention? Yemen has accepted Osama bin Laden's driver, to serve his sentence at home.

The US does have considerable political and economic clout in the region, and under the new administration it will have more. It could use that influence to ensure that prisoners returned to their home countries will not be abused in detention or on release. Otherwise, it should provide ex-detainees with a home, protection and an identity for themselves and their families in the US; that is the minimum price America must pay for Guantanamo.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive + incentives + uncapped comms: SThree:...

Ashdown Group: Reporting & Analytics Supervisor - Buckinghamshire - £36,000

£34000 - £36000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Analytics & Reporting Tea...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a world leader ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the SNP’s ‘fundamental problem’, says Corbyn, is that too many people support it

John Rentoul
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future